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Living the Mission, with Barbara

September 12, 2012

I have learned some practical things from Barbara.  For instance, in the use of language, written or spoken, “Be specific and you’ll be terrific.”  Or when a clear-cut judgment is called for, recalling what Martha Graham said to her in a dance class, a few years ago, during a particularly excruciating exercise: “My dear, either the toe is pointed. . . or it is not.”  Such words become family by-words.  Like the New Yorker cartoon depicting a statuesque woman on the TV screen, clobbering a piece of meat while a man leans eagerly forward and declaims, “Sock it to ‘em, Julia, baby!”  Years later Barbara took her framed, kitchen-spattered copy of the cartoon to a book signing where Julia Child happily autographed it.

The caption became another oft-repeated by-word, a quick way of saying what Emerson said more elegantly, “Nothing great has been accomplished without enthusiasm.”  Do other long-married couples do this—accumulate one-liners, apt phrases,  specific sayings—that come up in a day’s conversation again and again?  No doubt.   Barbara and I have had an uncommonly long time to do the accumulating.  We married on June 21, 1958, “the longest day and the shortest night of the year,” as her mother Elsie, eyes wryly squinting, reminded me.  We were very young.

Barbara has accomplished a great many things since that day, and never without enthusiasm.  The following tribute to her attests to the fact, in one realm of her hyperactivity:

2012 Louis C. Cornish “Living the Mission” Award

For Outstanding Contributions to International Partnership


Presented by the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council to



A founder of the UU Partner Church Council, present at the initial 1993 organizational meeting in Charlotte, NC, Barbara has made constant, adroit and abundant contributions to the UUPCC and to international awareness among Unitarian Universalists.  As a Board member until 2009, Barbara was a shrewd representative to the Czech Unitarian Church, playing a crucial role as negotiator, diplomat and advocate for the integrity of the Czech Unitarian Church. 


With management acumen, good sense and great humor, Barbara nurtured policies and practices that have strengthened the foundation of the UUPCC.  As Secretary, the President of the UUPCC, she smoothed the transition from an all-volunteer organization to one with a vital partnership of engaged volunteers and capable staff.  Never parochial in her loyalties, always she has reached out to other international organizations to collaborate in mutually beneficial ways, negotiating memoranda of understanding with the UUA and other collaborators.  Valuing work both global and local, she was instrumental in the development of the Greater Washington Area Partner Church Council.

Barbara’s smile lights up every room.  Whether by dancing in consort with her first husband Kim or with administrative savvy and derring-do, Barbara brings passion, prudence and joy to our common commitments.  We are delighted to celebrate all that she brings to the international UU community, to the UUPCC, and to Unitarian Universalists everywhere.


[signed] Richard Van Duizend, Board Chair, June 2012


The funny thing is, it’s all true.  I just wish she’d stop introducing me as her first husband.   After all, we still work “in consort”!

I’m proud of Barbara’s achievements, and delighted that the Partner Church Council has honored her for her manifold efforts for international liberal religion and its institutions.  It’s an astonishing record—in which, please note, she didn’t just volunteer—they drafted her again and again.  The citation understandably focuses on her PartnerChurch work—which has been local, in Arlington and Charlottesville, Virginia, as well as national and international.  There’s more.

Barbara was UUA Delegate and Treasurer of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists for  several years, with memorable meetings in Spain and Germany.  (On the last of these I came to Oberwesel, on the Rhine above the Lorelei rocks, to rescue my veritable Rhinemadschen, hospitalized after a bruising fall.)   She was the keynote speaker for the International Association of Liberal Religious Women, in Kochi, India.   They drafted her on the spot to help moderate subsequent sessions of the IARF Congress, for which the Dalai Lama spoke—no, radiated blessedness.  On our Philippines adventure, last winter, see my previous blog posting, “The God Who Made the Earthquake.”

The beat goes on.  When the UU women of the Southwest were organizing the first International  Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women, in Houston, three years ago, they drew Barbara first into the organizing committee and finally into the Presidency of the fledgling organization.  No wonder. (She has stage presence.  She strikes up conversations with strangers.  She lights up the room.  Her beau coup phone conversations are punctuated with laughter.)  Some 600 women from 18 countries came to that first gathering.  Transylvania Unitarian women have now taken the lead to organize the Second Convocation, in Maros Vasarhely next October.  We’ll be there, Barbara out front, I the trailing consort.

I’ve often noticed that when Barbara talks about her childhood, all the stories are drawn from age 7 or earlier: Life in SlavicVillage, Cleveland, Ohio, in the family compound around E. 52nd and Broadway.  Did you notice, in the citation cited above, the strange story of her being a “shrewd representative to the CzechUnitarianChurch”?   It’s inexplicable, except for her motivation–SlavicVillage lives!

I, being thoroughly suburbanized, missed such myth-laden geography.  But I did not miss Barbara’s development as a student (and dancer) at Oberlin and Harvard, a high school English teacher, a modern dance teacher with children, a liturgical dance leader in five  UU churches I served as minister, a researcher and writer on museum education and on children’s museums, a TV arts education developer, an editor of two national education journals, president of the Holbrook and Kellogg Co. (name invented from my waspish-sounding ancestors); publications director and finally a Director of Strategic Corporate Relations for Management Concepts, Inc., a training company in Fairfax County, Virginia.

What did they teach at MCI?  So far as I can tell, specifically two things: FOCUS and EXECUTION.  She already knew that from Martha Graham.  I used to say her real job was talking to strangers–on the phone, at big conferences, wherever she happened to be—for the good of good ol’ MCI.  All this did not, emphatically did not, come easily.  They are not selling widgits.

Nor have I mentioned ongoing volunteer work, with a foot in two locales—serving on the Boards of the upstart Madison County Education Foundation, and the Fairfax County Arts Council.  One year she organized the Council’s International Children’s Festival, and was scolded by the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China for inviting the Children’s Folk-Sport of Taiwan to participate: “Mrs. Beach, do you not know that Taiwan is NOT a country?”

How did she learn to do all that?  By raising two sons and, so far, one husband.  By the noble vocation (and serious human relations training ground) called Minister’s Spouse.  Or Consort, if you prefer. By teaching, dancing, and really great cookery.  By being specific, by keeping the toe pointed, and by socking it to ‘em.  –GKB

4 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2012 11:45 pm

    Round and round and round she goes …. Barbara with the pointed toes …..No one task can win her, her heart seems to say …. she will dance on in her own sprightly way ….. jumping and leaping, with wisdom and mirth, each time we meet her, a wondrous new birth.

  2. September 13, 2012 6:18 am

    My my, I did not know all this about Auntie B! How did I miss the dance background! Wonderful quote from Martha G… As for being a First Husband, I think that’s the male equivalent of First Lady, right? Or would that be First Gentleman?

  3. Linda permalink
    September 17, 2012 7:51 am

    What a sock it to ’em, focus and deliver-it, love letter to a divine woman who is also fortunate to have a marvelous First Husband with her on this life trip.

  4. Eric Beach permalink
    September 17, 2012 11:10 am

    I can vouch for Barbara any day as an attentive listener, a succinct speaker, a sharp critic of all things unjust. A smart lady, my mom.

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